Monday, July 21, 2014

Toy and Game Expo 2014 - Day 2 report

After a great day 1 at the Expo, I was even more excited for Day 2! This was the day that all my other gaming buddies were going to come too. I've been working hard at recruiting more gamers, and it has paid off. There were 7 others who joined me! Quinton, Brett and Joe had all come the year before. Matt, Ed, Ben and Ryan were all newbies this year.

Quinton and I arrived first when the hall opened at 10 AM. Quinton quickly purchased a copy of Firefly: The Game. Bonus: Games Paradise had mispriced the game at $60, even though they had another stack of the same game for $75 elsewhere. Score!

While awaiting more players, I taught Quinton Forbidden Desert. This is a great cooperative game, and I highly recommend it! It is a bit easier than Pandemic, but more interesting than Forbidden Island, its predecessor. I have yet to beat it on the normal level! We were getting close, but I died of thirst while still searching for our last airship parts. :(

Brett, Ryan, Ed and Ben arrived soon, so we checked out a game from the library that I had been wanting to try for years: Ca$h 'n Gun$. The premise of the game is essentially a Mexican standoff. The goal is to claim the most money, while staying alive. Each player gets an orange foam gun. Money tokens in various denominations are shuffled and 5 are flipped up on the table. Everyone chooses one of their 8 cards secretly, which indicate whether they hit, miss, or critical hit. You can only use each card once, so you have to choose when to bluff and when to pull the trigger. The leader counts to 3, and then everyone aims at another player. This is all done simultaneously, so you don't know who will be gunning for whom, and sometimes you find yourself looking down the barrels of 4 guns! Then after another countdown, you can decide whether to hide (removing yourself from the round and take a shame token), or stay in and shoot it out! Everyone still in reveals their cards. If you played a Bang! card, you hit your target and they take a wound and are out for the round. If you play a Click Click! card, you didn't shoot and were just bluffing. If you play a Bang Bang Bang! you do a critical hit, wounding your target before they can fire. Everyone not wounded or hiding at the end of the round gets a cut of the money. However, it has to be divided evenly without making change, so sometimes you can end up with a tiny amount. Play 8 rounds, and the person with the most money at the end (and is still alive) wins!

This was a hilarious game! Fast moving and easy to teach. There were some special powers that can be thrown in, and a few other variant rules that we didn't try. Not surprisingly, I was killed both games we played. And each time, it was my (supposedly) best friend Quinton who put the last bullet in me! Still, it was a great game. And wait till I have my revenge…..

After a quick lunch, we perused the tables to see what was on display. Matt was keen to see a demo of Francis Drake. The was one of the most beautiful games I've seen. Huge oversized board, glass beads of different colors for gold, silver and jewels, nice plastic minis, and little treasure chests to store your goods. The designer was there to explain the game. It's a solid worker placement game, with some bluffing mechanics. Matt was sold, but unfortunately the game was sold out. But he managed to find a copy in a local game store and picked it up the following week. We played it last week! Session report to follow…..

Next, Brett, Quinton, Joe and I wanted to get in a good strategic game. I was dying to try Concordia, but it was just starting to be played right when we walked up. But then we saw Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar on the table. I had played half of a game a few years back at Cancon, and Brett had wanted to try it. This is a great looking game and caught the eye of many passers-by. The gear mechanic is a unique take on worker placement. On your turn, you either place worker on a gear, or take them off. You only get the benefit when you remove the worker. So the idea is to put a worker on a gear and leave him there for a few turns. The gears spin each turn, and the workers move to the next highest space. The benefits on each gear get better the higher you go, so it's best to leave the workers on as long as possible. But you must remove or place a worker every turn, so if all your workers are out, you must take one off. Timing is extremely important! Workers are used to gather corn and resources, learn technologies, build buildings and monuments, and climb the temples. Points are earned periodically for levels achieved on the temples, and for buildings. You have to feed your workers, but it is only done 4 times in the game so it's not as annoying as in Agricola. The game ends after one complete revolution of the main gear. I think this is one of the most unique variations of worker placement and I enjoyed it a  lot. Each turn are tough decisions on whether to place or remove workers. But once familiar with the game, it could move quickly. You could probably finish in 90 min with 4 experienced players.  I decided though that I personally wouldn't want it in my collection due to some of the thematic elements (temples, angering the gods, crystal skulls). 

Tzolk'in took us 2.5 hours. In the meantime, the other guys had played a couple other games like King of Tokyo and Dominion. When we finished, Brett taught the guys how to play Marvel Dice Masters. This is the latest gaming craze. I haven't seen a game this popular in….well, ever. It had sold out of 2 print runs before it was even released. Brett and I had pre-ordered starter sets months in advance, and then we ordered some singles from Cool Stuff Inc to round our our collections. It's a fast, simple, addictive dice game. Each player chooses a team of 8 characters, each which their own custom dice. You assign 20 dice among all the characters, 1-4 dice each. Each turn you roll dice, use energy to buy more dice to add to your bag, field characters, and use them to attack or defend. Each character, of course, has its own unique power, so there are various ways to manipulate or enhance the dice. Yes, it's random. It is a dice game after all. But it's quick, fun, and pretty cheap (once it is back in stock anyway). Starters retail for $15 in America, and boosters of 2 dice are only $1. The only bad thing about the game is the collectible aspect. People are buying boxes and boxes of boosters to find the Super Rare cards. And apparently the Super Rares are almost unbeatable in tournaments. I much prefer playing casually and trying out the various combos of teams.

While the others were playing Dice Masters, I did some last minute browsing. I had gone into the Expo really intending not to buy much. I've already ordered a bunch of Kickstarters, and I don't have time to play the games I have. I managed to only buy Macao, and I though that would be it….until I saw a crowd amassing at one of the stalls during the last half hour of the Expo. I went over and found that this vendor was making some killer last minute offers. Earlier I was browsing at that table and he had Core Worlds for $50 and Walk The Plank for $20. Decent prices for Australia, but still not good enough. But hey, it was the last half hour of the Expo, and they wanted to get rid of their stock. I asked how much for the two games together, and the seller said $40! Sold!! With that bargain, I suddenly had the desire to find more good deals. The day before, I saw Wyatt Earp on another discount table for $20. This had been on my want list for a while, as it is a good rummy variant. I went back to the discount table, and everything was 20% off. Wyatt Earp was still there! I offered the seller $10, and added another game to my pile! So I ended up with 4 new games, for only $80 which is not bad at all in Australia. Now to start playing them…
After the Expo, we continued the gaming at Brett's with Eminent Domain, which I have been playing a lot more lately. Then Joe and I played his new purchase, DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Heroes Unite. It was fun, but very lopsided due to me getting an over-powered card in my first few turns. I didn't realise it was so powerful at the time, but I ended up winning by a margin of 100 points. 

So, all in all, it was a great Expo. Volunteering was great fun, I was glad to have so many other friends come on day 2, got some great bargains, and played awesome games! Can't wait for next year! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Toy and Game Expo 2014 - Day 1 report

It's been a while…Welcome back!

Last weekend I attended the Toy and Game Expo the largest gaming convention in Sydney. Well, it's the only convention in Sydney. There are other larger cons held in Melbourne and Canberra, but the Expo is a nicely run event and a lot of fun. Each year keep getting better. The first year was pretty sad. I only stayed a few hours, there wasn't much game playing going on, and it wasn't easy to join in a game. The second year was much better. I volunteered two of the days demoing games at the Mayfair booth, and entered a Carcassonne tournament. So how did this year compare?

First off, it was only held over 2 days instead of over a long 3 day weekend. This was done so as not to compete with BorderCon, another premier gaming con held on the same holiday weekend. However, BorderCon is hundreds of kilometres away. While I can appreciate that there are a handful of gamers who would go to both events, I don't think many would have been affected and I would rather have had 3 days. With only 2, I only volunteered 1 day, and did not want to spend a whole day on a tournament so I skipped that. 

On Saturday, the first thing I did was some quick shopping around to see if there were any discounts to be found. Most stalls were selling at the usual ridiculously high Aussie retail prices. I was hoping to find a deal on Rampage, but it was $80! But I was pleasantly surprised to find Macao on a discount table for only $30. This had been on my wish list for a while so I quickly snagged it! When it comes to shopping at game cons, the best time to browse is first thing on the first day, before the good games have been picked clean, and in the last 30 min on the last day, when there are last minute bargains to be found, as you will see later….

I had a gaming buddy, Matt, join me on Saturday morning, who is relatively new to the hobby, but is very excited about games. After browsing the demo tables, we decided to try Snowdonia. I'm a big worker placement fan and heard this was a good one. The rules were straightforward and explained well. It easily scaled to 2 players. There were some interesting mechanics, and we both enjoyed it. I liked how the theme was integrated with the excavating of rubble from the mountain to lay tracks. In the end, I ran away with the win by a margin of 40 points, mainly because I capitalised on the end game bonus cards. It was a solid worker placement game, but nothing really unique or groundbreaking. I'll happily play it again, but I wasn't interested enough to add it to my collection. Matt really liked it though and is now looking to buy a copy.

After that, my volunteer shift started. I worked in the Learn to Play area. They had a bunch of tables with the best gateway games set up so that gamers could come up and have someone explain the game for them. I got to teach CarcassonneTicket to RideDominionSaboteurForbidden Desert, and Pandemic. This was the highlight of the Expo for me. It was great seeing people really excited about learning a new game. Many were just new to the hobby and I was happy to help open their eyes to all the great games out there! I also was happy to see a variety of groups of people playing: couples, families with young children, women. It wasn't totally dominated by men, as many gaming events usually are. Next year, I think I'll do more volunteer shifts, since it was so much fun!

My shift ended when the Expo closed for the day. After a quick dinner break, I headed to the nearby hotel for the after-hours gaming session. My favourite game to play at a con is Battlestar Galactica, and I was hoping to get some experienced players so I could include some of the expansion modules I have never used. I quickly was able to round up the ideal number of 5 players, but some were newer players so we stuck with the base game, plus the Pegasus and Mutiny card decks. The players were:
(Me) Tom Zarek-Alternate Version (I just wanted to try a new character. His ability to choose which Mutiny card whenever anyone draws was good.)
Felix Gaeta (Admiral)
Gaius Baltar (President)
I was a human. We sailed thru the first half of the game. There was a little suspicion cast on the Admiral after he only took us 1 distance on the first jump, but otherwise everyone seemed very human. No Cylon fleet cards after the first jump meant we had an easy run, although Galactica took a pounding from the first basestar and the Admiral kept getting sent to Sickbay from being in damaged locations. Our second jump was much better and took us 3 distance and into the sleeper phase. Then I woke up and realised I was a Cylon after all! My goal was to play it sneaky and try to sow discord and force others to draw bad Mutiny cards. Gaius used his OPG on Cally and called her out as a Cylon. Cally immediately denied it and pointed the finger back at Baltar. We all were a bit worried, especially since Cally has an itchy trigger finger as her OPG. We weren't sure if we should brig Cally straight away, or let her get a turn and see who she shot. We ended up letting her run loose, and she shot Baltar, revealing him as…..HUMAN! It was obvious Cally was a toaster. The assassination left me as President with a hand of Quorum cards (heheheh!). Baltar knew one of the cards was to brig someone, so everyone said that I had to use it on Cally unless I was a Cylon. I made the mistake of continuing my charade and throwing Cally in the brig. I wish I had brigged the Admiral, which would have made me Admiral instead. I would have obviously been revealed, but we jumped on my turn, so I would have been able to choose a bad destination. But I thought I'd wait for my perfect moment to strike. I spent a few turns drawing Quorum cards and playing Mutiny cards, and the humans were getting very confused about who the Cylon was. Unfortunately I waited too long. The humans were able to quickly advance the jump track through some fortuitous crisis cards and made it to Kobol before I could do some serious damage. Still, it was a great game!!

Other games played:
Star Realms: This is a very light and quick deck-builder. Setup, rules, and play time total was about 20 min. Not bad for a quick little game, but I felt like it was over before my engine really got working. It was also quite random, since the only defence were certain outpost cards. Otherwise, it was just adding up your total attack and subtracting it from your opponent's hit points. Decent game if you just have 15 min, but I wouldn't ever choose to play it.
Machi Koro: I had heard good things about this so was happy to try it. It is a very light game, similar to Settlers of Catan in that you buy buildings and each turn you roll a die to see which buildings activate. It is very light, and very random with the die rolls. But it would be perfect for kids, families, or non-gamers. I actually really enjoyed it. We all were cheering for the die rolls we needed, and groaning when the die didn't roll our way. If you don't go in expecting a deep strategic game, you'll have fun.

I left around 12 AM, after a long satisfying day of gaming.

To come on Day 2: Guns, Gears, and Bargains!